Much has been written about the Bears needing one Georgia product — Leonard Floyd — to break out and complement Khalil Mack in the pass rush department. But if that doesn’t happen, perhaps Roquan Smith can ease the pain. While nothing of actual substance can be gained by watching preseason games, seeing Roquan burst through the line faster than anybody could react for a sack two weeks ago was a nice reminder of what the second-year linebacker is capable of when he’s sent after the quarterback.
Floyd’s lack of pass rush has been disappointing. But his ability to drop back in coverage and move in space is extremely rare for players at his position. His exceptional coverage skills will allow new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to do what he does best: design creative blitz packages. And Roquan has already proven to be exceptional at finding his way to the quarterback. Smith’s very first NFL play was a sack and he followed with four more, many looking similar to his sack in the preseason against Carolina.
Pagano never had a plethora of great pass rushers in Indianapolis, so he had to get creative. One year Jerrell Freeman had a career-high 5.5 sacks. The next year it was D’Qwell Jackson with four. Smith is a lot better than both of them and had five last year despite a coordinator who has been more conservative upfront than Pagano.
If there was one major flaw in Vic Fangio it was an inability to manufacture pressure. When teams blocked Mack, they blocked the Bears. The playoff loss to Philadelphia was a good example. The Eagles — with a pair of stud tackles — were able to neutralize the Bears pass rush and Fangio didn’t have any answers. Eventually, the secondary — especially Adrian Amos — started to show flaws and the Eagles were able to put together two touchdown drives, despite having Nick Foles at quarterback and no running game.
As I wrote in July, in the four games Mack was playing hurt or not playing at all, the Bears managed a combined 24 quarterback sacks and hits, applying such pressure on just 14.6% of the drop backs (not counting quarterback runs which are often the result of good coverage). That rate would’ve been the second worst in the entire league.
The Bears pass rush simply can’t be so reliant on one player. Ideally, Floyd would break through. But, if he doesn’t, the Bears have a rocket they can send scorching up the middle.